Restaurants Risk Closure for COVID-19 Safety Violations

Restaurants are doing their best to assure their patrons remain safe while dining. Since yesterday, the U.S. has added 46,329 new cases of COVID-19 and 322 more people have died from the disease. Operators are becoming increasingly mindful of safety protocols, not only for health reasons but also to avoid fines or forced closure by police departments.

“If we receive a complaint from a member of the public who is concerned that a restaurant is not in compliance, we will investigate and inspect, and there could be consequences,” says New York Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein. In Massachusetts, Mayor Marty Walsh says that the Boston police “takes seriously the regulations in place which were created with public health at the forefront, as we are still in the midst of a worldwide health pandemic.”

The elephant in the room is usually patron non-compliance. Restaurants cannot entirely control the behavior of their patrons, of course, which is often the primary source of safety risks. Although signage indicates customer requirements for mask-wearing, social-distancing and hand-washing, employees are often forced to become de facto orderlies. 

Enforcing social distancing has become a stressful responsibility for which many employees never signed up. “I did not sign up for the military. I signed up for Walmart,” complains one hourly worker, encapsulating the plight of many low-paid workers of all types, including restaurant workers.

Consider the onerous regulations for Miami restaurants, even those only allowing outdoor seating.

  • Kiosks must be sanitized after each customer, and at least once per hour.
  • Customers must wear masks at all times, unless seated at a table, including while in queue, ingress, and egress.
  • All condiments must be single-use.
  • Employees must report their body temperature before coming to work.
  • The restaurant manager must record a set of health screening questions prior to each worker’s shift.
  • Restaurants must install plexiglass barriers at tills and counters.
  • Employers are recommended to use full-body disinfectant to sanitize all employees prior to entry.
  • Hand sanitizer must be freely available at the host stand.
  • Front doors must be disinfected every 30 minutes.
  • No self-service stations, drink fountains, buffets or salad bars are allowed. Servers must deliver all items directly to customers.
  • All menus must be disposable, single-use, paper menus.
  • Tables and chairs must be sanitized at least once per hour.
  • Third-party delivery drivers must maintain minimum six-foot social distancing, wear face masks, and wash hands or use hand sanitizer between stops and deliveries.

“Rest assured, if you’re a business owner and decide that it is not your problem, we’re going to make it your problem. Because our education campaign is now over. Businesses that are not abiding by the rules will be shut down by Miami-Dade Police,” said Miami’s mayor. Many restaurant owners have simply given up, saying the rules are too difficult.

Photo by Chase Clark on Unsplash. Graph by The Atlantic.

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